“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Jesus, in Matthew 18:15-20.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,”
Today is Education Sunday, an appropriate link as the new academic year begins for schools. The church has always been involved with teaching and learning, not only with the education of monks, nuns and choir schools but with the Sunday Schools begun by Robert Raikes and the Christian schools now sought out for their high standards of academic, moral and spiritual education.
Here in Wales, the churches and chapels were also involved in education and teaching. At Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant only a few miles away from here, the priest William Morgan had begun to translate the Bible into Welsh in 1578 but few could read it. By 1740, the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge had established 76 schools in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire and Griffith Jones, with his patron Madame Bevan, also developed circulating schools with the purpose of being able to read the Bible in Welsh. These temporary schools moved on when sufficient numbers had grasped enough to share with others locally (the church plants of today can flourish on this basis too!) and, by 1771, it was estimated that over 200,000 had attended them. In 1800 Mary Jones, having learnt to read in the circulating school Rev’d Thomas Charles had begun, famously walked 26 miles barefoot at the age of fifteen to his chapel in Bala to obtain a Welsh Bible. This led to the foundation of the British and Foreign Bible Society and, although whether to use Welsh or English remained controversial, the churches and chapels were influential in creating the choice that now exists in Welsh education where previously there was little.
In the Gospel today, Jesus is teaching his followers how to resolve disputes when they happen – education is not just academic but a way of life too. He tells them that, if there is a difference between two of them, they should try to settle it by talking it through but, if it can’t be resolved, two or three witnesses should then be brought in and, finally, the church should be told if necessary and the person concerned then treated as a pagan or tax collector if agreement couldn’t be reached. Down the ages, this challenging advice and the need to admit wrongdoing has often not been followed and Jesus’ followers can sometimes be known for their divisions – that often lead to other fellowships being formed elsewhere and the Gospel spreading in different ways accordingly. However, the fact that Jesus is giving this guidance at all shows that disputes were common amongst his followers even then and, when Jesus suggests that if two people agree on anything it will be done by God in heaven, that small number suggests that perhaps even he realised unity was always going to be an issue.
Today, that is still the case and education in so diverse a world still remains a dream rather than a reality for many – Nelson Mandela’s words still await fulfilment. Progress is great too but currently hampered in some schools and buildings in the UK due to RAAC concrete which has become a hazard in so many places. That can happen in our lives, sometimes, when all we think we’ve built can sometimes collapse and we’re left tackling the rubble as are so many in Morocco today after the earthquake that has killed so many. Life teaches us many lessons, not least to care about neighbours with practical care and support whether or not we’re in agreement with them. Those lessons can bring new insights and blessings but they’re also sometimes challenging and difficult. What are the lessons life has taught us this Education Sunday?
With my prayers; pob bendith,